Elymus elymoides - (Raf.) Swezey
Bottlebrush Squirrel-tail
Other English Common Names: Bottlebrush, Long-bristled Wildrye, Squirreltail, Western Bottlebrush Grass
Other Common Names: squirreltail
Synonym(s): Sitanion hystrix (Nutt.) J.G. Sm.
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Elymus elymoides (Raf.) Swezey (TSN 502264)
French Common Names: élyme queue-d'écureuil
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.148156
Element Code: PMPOA2H110
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Grass Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Monocotyledoneae Cyperales Poaceae Elymus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Elymus elymoides
Taxonomic Comments: Though bottlebrush and big squirreltail are commonly referred to as Sitanion hystrix (Nutt.) J.G. Smith and Sitanion jubatum J.G. Smith, respectively, squirreltail is becoming more widely accepted through cytological and molecular evidence as belonging to the genus Elymus. The squirreltail complex, Elymus section Sitanion, is composed of two species, E. multisetus (J.G. Sm.) M.E. Jones (big squirreltail) and E. elymoides (Raf.) Swezey (bottlebrush squirreltail), with E. elymoides being further divided into four subspecies: elymoides, brevifolius (J.G. Sm.) Barkworth, californicus (J.G. Sm.) Barkworth, and hordeoides (Suksd.) Barkworth (Barkworth and Dewey, 1985; Kartesz, 1999).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 07Jul2016
Global Status Last Changed: 16Jun1988
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Squirreltail (in the broad sense) can be found throughout western North America from Canada to Mexico and is adapted to a wide range of ecological and topographical conditions. It is considered secure throughout its range and may even become weedy or invasive in some regions displacing desirable vegetation unless properly managed.
Nation: United States
National Status: N4N5
Nation: Canada
National Status: N4N5 (07Mar2012)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Arizona (SNR), California (SNR), Colorado (SNR), District of Columbia (SNA), Idaho (SNR), Illinois (SNA), Kansas (SNR), Kentucky (SNR), Missouri (SNR), Montana (S5), Nebraska (SNR), Nevada (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), North Dakota (SNR), Oklahoma (SNR), Oregon (SNR), South Dakota (SNR), Texas (SNR), Utah (SNR), Washington (SNR), Wyoming (S5)
Canada Alberta (S3), British Columbia (SNR), Saskatchewan (S2)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Squirreltail (in the broad sense) is widely distributed and can be found throughout western North America from British Columbia to Saskatchewan, south throughout the western and central United States to Mexico and from the west coast to the Dakotas and south to Oklahoma and Texas (Welsh et al., 1987; USDA NRCS, 2010).

Number of Occurrences: > 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Elymus elymoides ssp. brevifolius occurs in the San Bernardino Mountains, Peninsular Ranges, Modoc Plateau, and Mojave Desert of California to Oregon, the Great Plains and south to northern Mexico. Elymus elymoides ssp. californicus is found in the Klamath Range, Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains, east Sierra Nevada of California to Washington, Montana and Utah. Elymus elymoides ssp. elymoides is found in the Transverse Ranges, San Jacinto Mountains, and Great Basin floristic Province from California to Washington, Wyoming and Colorado. Elymus elymoides ssp. hordeoides occurs in Klamath Range from California to Washington and Nevada (Welsh et al., 1987). It barely ranges into western North Dakota, cited by Stevens (1963) (as Sitanion hystrix) from Medora in 1940 and Bismarck in 1946.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very many (>125)

Overall Threat Impact: Unknown
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Although bottlebrush squirreltail is generally top-killed by fire, its small size and low density of coarse fuel per unit basal area make it relatively fire tolerant (Britton et al., 1990; Wright, 1971). Low density of above ground plant tissue produces a quick, "hot" flame, transferring little heat to growing points below the soil surface (Wright, 1971; Wright and Klemmedson, 1965). The solid culms of bottlebrush squirreltail do not readily burn, compared to those of perennial grass associates (Wright and Klemmedson, 1965). Bottlebrush squirreltail's small size, coarse stems, and sparse leafy material aid in its tolerance of fire (Britton et al., 1990) Frequency of disturbance greatly influences postfire response of bottlebrush squirreltail. Undisturbed plants within a 6 to 9 year age class generally contain large amounts of dead material, increasing bottlebrush squirreltail's susceptibility to fire (Wright and Klemmedson, 1965). Koniak (1985) found bottlebrush squirreltail to be a major component of postfire pinyon-juniper communities of the Great Basin at any time during succession (Simonin, 2001).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: It is considered secure throughout its range and may even become weedy or invasive in some regions displacing desirable vegetation unless properly managed (USDA NRCS, 2010).

Long-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: The large ecological amplitude of bottlebrush squirreltail lends to ecotypic differentiation. Phenological differences in growth rate, root:shoot ratios, leaf area, and overall plant size exist between subspecies of bottlebrush squirreltail. Differences are directly related to subspecies distribution

Environmental Specificity: Broad. Generalist or community with all key requirements common.
Environmental Specificity Comments: This species is tolerant to disturbance (Maser and Strickler, 1978). Its ability to germinate in the late fall and very early spring at a wide range of temperatures add to its capability to compete with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.). Studies also indicate that squirreltail is capable of establishing in medusahead wildrye (Taeniatherum caput-medusae (L.) Nevski) infested sites. This makes squirreltail one of the more competitive native grasses available for reseeding disturbed rangelands. It is also a self-fertilizing species which allows it to produce seed despite sparse stands following seeding. Squirreltail is considered to be one of the most fire resistant native bunchgrasses. Older plants contain relatively low amounts of dead material when compared with other native bunchgrasses. This allows for hot, but quick burns which do not penetrate and damage the crown. However, during dry years plants can be damaged by severe burns. As an early-seral species, new plants often increase for two to three years following burns (USDA NRCS, 2010). In general, squirreltail is adapted to a wide range of ecological and topographical conditions. Plants can be found from 600 to 3,500 meters (2,000 to 11,500 feet) elevation in desert shrub to alpine plant communities. The different species-subspecies are adapted to sites receiving as little as 8 inches mean annual precipitation on upland sites or 5 to 9 inches in low lying areas that receive additional moisture. Big squirreltail is normally found in sites with 10 inches or more mean annual precipitation. Squirreltail grows well in medium to fine-textured soils, but also commonly occupies coarse-textured to gravelly soils. It tolerates low to moderately saline to alkaline run-in or overflow sites with electrical conductivity (EC) generally less than 10 (USDA NRCS, 2010).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Squirreltail (in the broad sense) is widely distributed and can be found throughout western North America from British Columbia to Saskatchewan, south throughout the western and central United States to Mexico and from the west coast to the Dakotas and south to Oklahoma and Texas (Welsh et al., 1987; USDA NRCS, 2010).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AZ, CA, CO, DCexotic, ID, ILexotic, KS, KY, MO, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY
Canada AB, BC, SK

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
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Reproduction Comments: Bottlebrush squirreltail has the ability to produce large numbers of highly germinable seeds, with relatively rapid germination when exposed to the correct environmental cues. Seeds are readily dispersed by wind a few days following maturation. Dispersal is a function of bottlebrush squirreltail's long reflexed awns and disarticulating, mature inflorescence. Seeds are dispersed when the spike inflorescence is carried along the ground by wind catching the long awns. Although it has the potential for long distance seed dispersal, Martlette and Anderson (1986) found natural plant cover to act as a barrier to dispersal. Wind dispersal of bottlebrush squirreltail seed did not exceed 131 feet (40 m), with viable seed remaining relatively close to mature bottlebrush squirreltail plants. Dormancy protects bottlebrush squirreltail seeds from germinating during seasonal dry periods. Dry seeds require a period of afterippening, which widens environmental conditions conducive to germination. Germination rate increased and dormancy levels decreased as the duration of dry storage increased. Desert bottlebrush squirreltail seed commonly show higher levels of dormancy than seed from mountain populations. Bottlebrush squirreltail seeds may germinate without a period of afterippening, showing a partial state of dormancy. However mean germination time for recently harvested seeds is longer than for afterippened seeds (Simonin, 2001).

Habitat Comments: This plant is a common component of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)/grass communities of the Intermountain shrubsteppe and is a common component of pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.) communities of the Great Basin, but it most commonly occurs in disturbed areas of deserts, valleys, foothills, and mountain meadows (Simonin, 2001). It can grow in a wide range of habitats, from shadscale communities to alpine tundra in a wide range of elevations from 4000 to 10,500 feet. Elymus elymoides ssp. elymoides is common at low to middle elevations in the western states. Subspecies californicus is native to mid-elevations up to alpine areas of Canada, California, Nevada and Utah. Subspecies brevifolius is found in a wide variety of habitats including desert and mountain plant communities, while subspecies hordeoides is restricted to the low lands of the Great Basin. Elymus multisetus occupies a similar range to ssp. elymoides, but is typically found in somewhat wetter, more mesic sites often in and near mountain foothills. In general, squirreltail is adapted to a wide range of ecological and topographical conditions. Plants can be found from 600 to 3,500 meters (2,000 to 11,500 feet) elevation in desert shrub to alpine plant communities. The different species-subspecies are adapted to sites receiving as little as 8 inches mean annual precipitation on upland sites or 5 to 9 inches in low lying areas that receive additional moisture. Big squirreltail is normally found in sites with 10 inches or more mean annual precipitation. Squirreltail grows well in medium to fine-textured soils, but also commonly occupies coarse-textured to gravelly soils. It tolerates low to moderately saline to alkaline run-in or overflow sites with electrical conductivity (EC) generally less than 10 (USDA NRCS, 2010). Bottlebrush squirreltail inhabits a wide variety of soil types and is tolerant of saline (Jensen et al., 1990) and alkaline soils. It is widely distributed in salt-desert shrub ranges of the west, on dry, gravelly soils, or within alkaline conditions. Bottlebrush squirreltail is found on clayey soils of northeastern California sagebrush communities (Simonin, 2001).
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 17Nov2010
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Cordeiro, J.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 17Nov2010
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Cordeiro, J.

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Barkworth, M.E. and D.R. Dewey. 1985. Genomically based genera in the perennial Triticeae of North America: Identification and membership. American Journal of Botany 72(5): 767-776.

  • Britton, C., G. McPherson, and F. Sneva. 1990. Effects of burning and clipping on five bunchgrasses in Eastern Oregon. Great Basin Naturalist 50(2):115-120.

  • Douglas, G.W., G.B. Straley, and D. Meidinger. 1989. The vascular plants of British Columbia. Part 1. Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons (Asteraceae through Cucurbitaceae). Crown Publications Incorporated. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. 208 pp.

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2007a. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Vol. 24. Magnoliophyta: Commelinidae (in part): Poaceae, part 1. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. xxviii + 911 pp.

  • Great Plains Flora Association (R.L. McGregor, coordinator; T.M. Barkley, ed., R.E. Brooks and E.K. Schofield, associate eds.). 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 1392 pp.

  • Hickman, J. C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 1400 pp.

  • Jensen, M.E., G.H. Simonson, and M. Dosskey. 1990. Correlation between soils and sagebrush-dominated plant communities of northeastern Nevada. Soil Science Society of America Journal 54:902-910.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Koniak, S. 1985. Succession in pinyon-juniper woodlands following wildfire in the Great Basin. The Great Basin Naturalist 45(3):556-566.

  • Marlette, G.M. and J.E. Anderson. 1986. Seed banks and propagule dispersal in crested-wheatgrass stands. Journal of Applied Ecology 23:161-175.

  • Maser, C. and G.S. Strickler. 1978. The sage vole, Lagurus curtatus, as an inhabitant of subalpine sheep fescue, Festuca ovina, communities on Steens Mountain--an observation and interpretation. Northwest Science 52(3):276-284.

  • Scoggan, H.J. 1978-1979. The flora of Canada: Parts 1-4. National Museums Canada, Ottawa. 1711 pp.

  • Simonin, K. A. 2001. Elymus elymoides. In: Fire Effects Information System. USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ (Accessed 18 November 2010).

  • USDA NRCS. 2010. The PLANTS Database. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service [USDA, NRCS]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Available online: http://plants.usda.gov/. Accessed 2010.

  • Welsh, S.L., N.D. Atwood, L.C. Higgins, and S. Goodrich, eds. 1987. A Utah Flora. Great Basin Naturalist Memoir 9, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 894 pp.

  • Welsh, S.L., N.D. Atwood, S. Goodrich, and L.C. Higgins (eds.) 1993. A Utah flora. 2nd edition. Brigham Young Univ., Provo, Utah. 986 pp.

  • Wright, H.A. 1971a. Why squirreltail is more tolerant to burning than needle-and-thread. Journal of Range Management 24:277-284.

  • Wright, H.A. and J.O. Klemmedson. 1965. Effect of fire on bunchgrasses of the sagebrush-grass region in southern Idaho. Ecology 46(5):680-688.

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